Pope Francis has given to the Church four major teaching documents - two encyclical letters and two apostolic exhortations. We can add to these his announcement of a Jubilee Year of Mercy. In each of these documents, the pope invites us to deeper, stronger, and more authentic ways of living our faith as friends and followers of Jesus Christ sent on mission to bring the Gospel to the world. Consider a few examples ...
Lumen Fidei ("The Light of Faith," 6/2013) is Pope Francis' first encyclical letter, which supplements what Pope Benedict XVI wrote on charity and hope. In this letter, Francis calls us "to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence" (4).
Next from the pope's pen came Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel," 11/2013). Here he invites "all Christians, everywhere, at this moment, to a renewed, personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them. I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day" (#3). This encounter is the reason for joy.
Laudato Si ("On Care for Our Common Home," 5/2015) calls the Church and the world to face the urgency of global environmental challenges. In this summons to conversion, the pope begins his reflections by recalling the beautiful canticle of St. Francis of Assisi: "Praise be to you, my Lord," while noting that St. Francis "reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us." Yet, "this sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her" (1 and 2).
The post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love," 3/2016) is the pope's monumental proclamation of the beauty of marriage and family in God's plan. "The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church" (31).
It is significant that Amoris Laetitia arrived during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. The pope notes this timeliness, saying that Amoris Laetitia "seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy" (5). The theme of mercy - the gift of God's compassionate, unconditional love as well as our vocation to mirror that compassion - is a dominant one in the Holy Father's thinking.
Consider just the titles of his books: The Name of God is Mercy (Random House, 2016) and The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church (Loyola, 2014). While there is a very strong, even primary accent on our need for God's forgiveness in the sacrament of penance, the pope also calls us to accompany others along life's journey by living the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
The pope's "marching orders" to the Church are clear: living in the light of faith, we encounter Jesus, the source of our joy. Jesus sends us on mission to share the joy of the Gospel, to care for the earth, our common home, and to celebrate and build up marriage and family life - and all of this with the "logic of pastoral mercy."
May God grant us the grace and strength to embrace the challenge presented to us by our Holy Father and to respond with the compassion he so beautifully models for us.